The Catholic Church always seems to be a lightning rod for the salient issues of the day, whether it is abortion, euthanasia, social justice or immigration. To me it is not surprising that a world that gives more allegiance to Niccolò Machiavelli, Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud would not rest until the Church’s strong voice was sufficiently muted or even eliminated from the religious marketplace. The public disdain the Church has suffered also goes with the territory because Christ also promised that the world would hate and persecute his followers.
None of the above bothers me. I love being a Catholic, that is being part of something much greater than myself. The title has undergone a serious rewrite. I have been touting the importance of human reason with regard to, not only Church teachings but all pronouncements from government, Wall Street and the major newspapers. Things have to make sense to me or I will have trouble accepting them. Throughout the course of my life, I have had to change my mind several times because of a new insight, afforded me from priests, professors, friends, or something I read in a book or an article.
My most recent one and it was a significant one, excited me to no end. It happened during a Saturday Mass at a neighboring parish. The homily was given by their pastor, a long-time friend of many years, who baptized my first grandchild, officiated at my daughter’s wedding and gave my first wife the Last rites. He has also been, not just my friend and advisor but also the family’s. That Saturday, he spoke of seeing things through the eyes of faith. I had an epiphanous moment, though not as strong as Saul’s at Tarsus, but vivid enough to inspire me to clarify and rework the importance of both faith and reason within the confines of my personal way of thinking.
One’s reason is best enhanced by what one hears, just as I had heard Monsignor’s homily that night about faith. While there is the eye of faith, there is also the ear of reason. I have used the idiom A Fly on the Wall of Reason, in another essay I had written years ago. Thanks to the aforementioned talk, I now imagine a second fly, not on the wall but a Fly on the Ceiling of Faith.
This morning before I set about to polish this essay, I happened upon the Science Times in a recent NYT at the breakfast table. I never read this section but its front-page story caught my attention. In bold letters, it read A Fly’s Brain. The article by Emily Anthes went on to say, The brain of a fly is the size of a poppy seed and as easy to overlook…But of course flies lead quite rich lives…They are capable of sophisticated behaviors. And their speck-sized brains are tremendously complex, containing some 100,000 neuron and tens of millions of connections or synapses between them. All of her information gladdened me because it increases the validity of my fly allegory.
The fly on the wall has often been used metaphorically in the function of eavesdropping on conversations that we would love to be privy to. Picture the second fly on the ceiling with a perfect aerial view. From that vantage point he can easily see the faithful below enjoy the spirit and the grace of religious joy and worship. He may view all the theological virtues and maybe some spiritual works of mercy in one afternoon. Occasionally he may witness a blasphemous action. My Catholic imagination has me mating these two entomological idioms into one integrated and spiritual whole. Faith should be put under the microscope of reason while reason should be subject to examination by the principles of faith. Where faith and reason connect, conscience is born.
The two are inseparable for the Catholic. A Catholic website proclaimed that faith without reason leads to superstition, while reason without faith leads to nihilism and relativism. Faith and reason increase each other’s development, according to the so-called hermeneutic circle of faith and reason.
Saint Thomas Aquinas said that love follows knowledge. He argued that the heart cannot love what the intellect does not know and so it is with God and our faith. We must have at least a basic understanding of who He is, and why He is good in order for us to understand why one should love Him. Aquinas used reason to show that the existence of God is self-evident, an approach employed by many apologists, including C.S. Lewis in his work Mere Christianity.
Saint John Paul II’s 1998 encyclical Fides Et Ratio addressed the relationship between faith and reason. It was written to support and defend traditional Christian philosophy. His Holiness believed that like Aquinas, faith and reason together allow people to know and love God. Essentially, the Pope underscored the old Frank Sinatra song, Love and Marriage, released in 1956. The lyrics of Love and Marriage like the encyclical, state emphatically that Like a horse and carriage, you can’t have one without the other, a lesson many American Catholics have seemed to have forgotten.
I think it fair and honest to say the Church is going through a very difficult time. It might be time to resurrect the indelible link between the two. As the guardian of truth, it is obvious, even to the unobservant who the Church’s enemies are on the outside. However sometimes its enemies have breached its interior walls and are hurting the Church from within. In reality I believe that my wall fly has the much more difficult job since he hears the sordid side of some Church affairs.
It is not my goal to savage or passionately attack the modern Church, which is far different from the Church of my formative years. I am deeply offended by the so-called sex scandal, which has cast a scarlet pale over the entire core of the priesthood. I find it far more disturbing than the scandals of the 16th century over the sale of indulgences. And that one split the Church in half. One can only calculate how much damage this has done to the Catholic Church so many of us love deeply.
I think Church leadership has bungled the job over several papacies because too many of our hierarchy chose to be modern bureaucrats or enablers of evil and perversion instead of saints in the making. My faithful reason tells me this scandal, not the erroneous pedophilia menace or the lie the Church and the press have mutually agreed on, but the truth that the scandal is primarily one of homosexual behavior with boys and young men exclusively. This Greek Persuasion is known as pederasty. If the Church is serious about stopping this historic affliction, it could start by being more honest about what the menace really is. The Church has weathered other serious storms from persecutions to world wars and papal imprisonments. It has endured murdering popes and popes, who have been murdered— libertines, and all sorts of human frailties and yet, it still stands. Despite all this, I feel confident and hopefully that it will truly heed Christ’s words and exist until the consummation of the world.
I am not a traditionalist on the brink of apostasy or schism, like so many strict Catholics. My conscience tells me that all institutions that are run by humans, are subject to the temptations of the world, the flesh and most importantly, the devil, no matter what color their cleric robes may be. I still believe in the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church that has evolved from the Petrine Rock of over 2000 years ago. The Catholic faith has been the most important influence in my life and deeply entwined with my eternal destiny. There is an indelible sign seared onto my soul from my Catholic Baptism in 1943 that will stay with me until death.
This fact does not mean I cannot voice my displeasure at things when I believe the Church has taken a wrong turn or has promoted something contrary to what I will call the test of conscience. I do not like government-run health care, or vague notions of the catch-all social justice. This seems to be a replacement for the virtue of charity or free giving to the poor. Giving them a dubious right to the largesse of the wealthy or even the middle class is a socialist notion that is anti-virtue and ungodly. It does not belong in the Catholic Church.
Why so many of our Church leaders trust the secular government has always baffled me. Jesus commanded his apostles to go out and teach all nations. Many have tried to do just that. I think it was the first Archbishop of New York, John Hughes, who did the most to Christianize secular society head-on. He was a great proselytizer and if I am not mistaken, he wanted to meet secularism in the second half of the 19th century, on its own grounds and convert it to the Faith. The Society of Jesus has historically employed the same approach.
However, with the advent of Modernism the last 75 years, I think the reverse has happened in a large way. I often think the Church has become more secularized. Talks about salvation have virtually disappeared from homilies, which used to be called sermons and often had a bite to them. If our goal in life is to be in Heaven with God and the Holy family forever, one would think they would try to sell it more often.
I sometimes feel the vision they are promoting is an earthly paradise. Or are they guilty of the secular sin of positive presumption or universal salvation? If so that means they can concentrate on more than just a taste of heaven here. Instead of the old meme, Pie in the Sky, now it seems to be Milk and Honey and a Lot of Money. Partnering with a nihilistic government to help the poor sounds like a formula for disaster. I think too many of our hierarchy are starting to sound like a spiritual appendage to the Federal Government. I could be wrong in what I say and write but if so, it would stem only from inferiority in research or my failure to fully comprehend, given my human and frail intellect. My errors can never be charged to a lack of religious fervor or indifference to religious belief.
So, a word to the wise when I say whenever something happens down your pike, just ask yourself the question: Do the actions of our leaders, religious and secular make rational sense to you and are they in line with your understanding of the teachings of the Faith? Isn’t that what God gave us a brain for? Isn’t that why many of us went to, in my case a Catholic elementary school, high school, college and university, including my 11 years of Jesuit education.
Not to forget my fly of reason, I wonder what the bishops must say to each other when they discuss in private the fact that most of our Catholic political leaders are pro-abortion. Wouldn’t you love to be the fly on that wall? Maybe after reading all of the above, you will be kinder to a pesky fly on your wall or ceiling because he just may be a Catholic fly doing God’s work and they are the best kind.